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Most studies of social cognition have focused on dyadic relationships, and rather few have looked at how we engage with individuals in the wider social world into which we are embedded. Here we use principle component analysis (PCA) and path analysis to explore how different aspects of human sociality interact. We demonstrate two distinct clusters in both sexes relating to (i) romantic relationships and (ii) wider social engagement, such as that with the local community. These two domains of relationship were associated with different dispositional traits: individual variation in impulsivity in the former, and in empathy and avoidant attachment in the latter. Although these clusters were broadly similar across both sexes, clearer differentiation is evident in males. In females only, support network size was positively related to the anxious dimension of attachment and, unlike in males, was not related to feelings of inclusion in the local community. This suggests that support networks may play different roles in the two sexes, indicating a productive line of future research. These findings have important practical applications: loneliness interventions that target the specific type of relationship that is felt to be lacking and the associated dispositional traits are likely to be more effective than more generic approaches.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date